Skip to Content

Robot-deployed balloons are taking over for humans at remote weather stations

April 26, 2018

The National Weather Service (NWS) is using automated launchers instead of human employees to deploy weather balloons in Alaska.

What they do: At the push of a button, the balloons can be automatically filled, checked, and deployed by NWS office employees. Once aloft, they send back information needed for worldwide weather forecasts.

By the numbers: Two Alaskan weather stations have gotten robotic launchers so far. Eleven more will be receiving them by 2020. Each costs $1.2 million but will end up saving $1 million a year.

Not good for workers: Employee hours at remote weather offices have already been slashed because of budget cuts. And with the arrival of auto-launchers, what were three-person teams at each station will be reduced to just one, whose job it will be to hold down the fort and reload the machine. Everyone else will be relocated and retrained. As Kimberly Vaughan, a union steward in Juneau, Alaska, told Science, “The autolauncher is just another nail in [remote weather stations’] coffin.”

This story first appeared in our future of work newsletter, Clocking In. Sign up here!

Keep Reading

Most Popular

What to know about this autumn’s covid vaccines

New variants will pose a challenge, but early signs suggest the shots will still boost antibody responses.

DeepMind’s cofounder: Generative AI is just a phase. What’s next is interactive AI.

“This is a profound moment in the history of technology,” says Mustafa Suleyman.

Human-plus-AI solutions mitigate security threats

With the right human oversight, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence can help keep business and customer data secure

Next slide, please: A brief history of the corporate presentation

From million-dollar slide shows to Steve Jobs’s introduction of the iPhone, a bit of show business never hurt plain old business.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.